This is only a drill
HINSDALE, N.H. -- Kramer Marshall lay motionless several yards from a mangled car, when Hinsdale Police Officers Wayne Gallagher and Wayne Kassotis arrived.
Madison Weston sat dazed behind the steering wheel, with friend Melaina Cominoli pinned underneath the frame and Joseph McClenon in the backseat. Members of Rescue Inc. and the town's fire department started to extract Cominoli as Gallagher worked to keep Marshall alive. With sirens blaring in the background, Weston admitted to having a few drinks and was quickly handcuffed.
And then came a refreshing round of applause.
The whole scene was a simulation orchestrated by Hinsdale students and area emergency personnel as a way to, the day before prom, show young people all the dangers associated with driving under the influence. The school's prom is scheduled for tonight.
All students of Hinsdale Middle/High School watched in silence as the fictional tragedy unfolded in front of them, and Gallagher placed a white sheet over Marshall's "corpse" while Cominoli was placed on a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance.
The simulation was the brainchild of the three students in school's Criminal Justice ELO (Extended Learning Opportunities), which teamed up with Students Helping Our Community (SHOC), the Hinsdale police and fire departments and Rescue Inc. to create a spectacle the young witnesses are unlikely to forget.
Weston, a junior who, along with classmate Cominoli and sophomore McClenon, make up the Criminal Justice ELO, told the Reformer she hopes the unsavory images stick in people's minds.
"I just thought it would be good to do for the school, so everybody could see (what happens)," she said. "It's good to be a part of.
Marshall is an eighth-grader.
Cominoli, freed from the stretcher and stained with fake blood, took pride in her dramatized blood-curdling screams, saying they fit the gravity of the situation.
"It just came from within," she said with a smile. "I felt like it was important to do that."
Once the simulation ended, all the students filed into the school's gymnasium, where the simulators joined Gallagher and Marshall's father, Leo Marshall, for a serious discussion. Gallagher said Weston -- had the simulation been real -- would go to trial and face seven to 12 years in jail. Leo Marshall told the students how someone close to him died in a car crash and urged them to make good decisions -- because drunken driving has a ripple effect that tears apart families and groups of friends.
Math teacher Jessica Horton then took the floor to share a story she said she has not told publicly in 11 years. She said she signed up to study abroad in Thailand when she was in high school and, the night before her flight, she had her father drive her to a 7-Eleven to pick up some snacks for the long flight. While at the store, she bumped into a friend, one who had studied abroad in China the previous year and encouraged Horton to take advantage of the unique opportunity. They chatted in the store and said good-bye, and she left for Thailand the next day. She didn't know it at the time, but that was the last time she would ever see her friend. Horton said her friend was driving home one night after a party, where he had been drinking, and was driving and not wearing a seatbelt, when he crashed and was launched through the windshield onto a rock. A friend called his mother, who was able to make it to the crash scene and cradle her son before he died of his injuries with alcohol on his breath.
Fighting tears, she pleaded with the students in the room to never get behind the wheel while intoxicated and told them to call her or someone else they trust if they are ever in a potentially dangerous situation. The story had a noticeable effect on the people present, and many of them had to leave the room while wiping tears from their eyes. Principal Ann Freitag said the emotional response from adults spoke volumes about the power Horton's story carries with it, even 11 years later.
Gallagher said the school has hosted similar simulations in the past, though this was the first one in a few years.
"There are a lot of places that do it. It's just to let them know it can happen in real life," the former police chief told the Reformer. Gallagher is also the teacher of the Criminal Justice ELO.
Drew Hazelton, the chief of operations at Rescue Inc., said he believes a well-done simulation helps steer young people in the right direction, though he is not aware of any relevant statistics.
"It's to help demonstrate to the students the seriousness of their choices," he said. "We hope the awareness is enough to deter kids from making bad choices. And there is quite often connections to tragedies that have happened -- hopefully the kids will go home and talk to their parents about what they've seen over their lives and make some personal connections that will encourage them to make the right decisions."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.